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Candidate roundtable: (Oregon) State House District 56
Water a recurring theme for candidates
Tracey Liskey, Gail Whitsett answer questions on water, the KBRA and dam removal
By SAMANTHA TIPLER, Herald and News 3/29/12
About the state representative candidates
Tracey Liskey prides himself as a third-generation Klamath Basin farmer. He is best known as a coowner of Liskey Farms. He referenced his work with public groups, including the Oregon Farm Bureau, the governor’s sustainability board and the state fish screen task force. Liskey said improving the Klamath Basin economy is his top priority and said his experience in agriculture and business has prepared him for the task.
Gail Whitsett capitalized on her training as a geologist, and her experience as chief of staff for her husband, Oregon State Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls. She said her run for office is not about power, but about public service, noting the 30 percent pay cut she will take if elected. She also mentioned growing up in the Basin and graduating from Henley High School. She said her top priority is improving business in Klamath and Lake counties.
When Republican candidates for Oregon House District 56 sat down for a question-and-answer roundtable at the Herald and News office Wednesday, water was the recurring topic of discussion.
Candidates Gail Whitsett and Tracey Liskey spoke about Oregon water adjudication, their differing views on the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, views on dam removal and alternatives to the KBRA.
Liskey, speaking from his experience with compromise as a Klamath Basin farmer, said the KBRA is the best solution right now, even if it does have some flaws.
“It ends up being a very wormy apple, but we’re all pretty hungry so we’re going to take a bite of it,” Liskey said. “Unfortunately some of those bites are going to have worms in them.”
Whitsett said she had a list of 14 alternative ways to meet objectives of the KBRA. She said her background in geology and science helped.
“I feel there are alternatives out there and I’m willing to consider any of those,” she said. “I would like to have some sort of agreement, but not necessarily one that involves removing the four Klamath dams.”
Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Association Water Users , asked: Water adjudication at the state level will likely be decided by the next irrigation season, giving priority to water users in the Basin based on priority dates. The Klamath Tribes may be first in line with in-stream rights, having water rights to time immemorial. That could negatively impact irrigators, including involuntary water shortages. Will tribal rights be recognized by the state? What is the strategy for irrigators to avoid or minimize the consequences, or possible consequences, of tribal rights?
Whitsett: The Oregon Water Resources Department told her the order might be adjusted. She said making a decision now, based on the order, would be premature. “We need to finish the adjudication in the state of Oregon. It is Western water law,” she said. “Let’s finish all of the adjudication; let’s go from that point forward.”
Liskey: The adjudication process will give the Oregon Water Resources Department the ability to regulate water, and adjudication will result in water being curtailed in the Basin, Liskey said. He has met with both Tribal representatives and Upper Basin irrigators to talk about the issue. He thinks compromises with tribes and the water resources department can be reached through restoration. “It’s a lot of working together to make sure we address it in that area,” he said. “I believe this adjudication is really going to hurt some people.”
Q: Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and dam removal
Steve Miller, editor of the Herald and News, asked the candidates to speak about KBRA and dam removal agreement issues.
Liskey: He called the agreement a very controversial issue. As a farmer he worked toward the best solution, and while he argued against some points of the KBRA, he ended up voting in favor of it. It was a compromise.
“I think the KBRA is the only thing out there,” he said. “It ends up being a very wormy apple, but we’re all pretty hungry so we’re going to take a bite of it. Unfortunately some of those bites are going to have worms in them.”
He also said as a state legislator, he would not be voting on the agreement. It’s all up to federal legislators.
Whitsett: “I’m opposed to the KBRA because of the dam removal aspect,” Whitsett said.
She objected to the agreement leaving out representation for ratepayers and the taxpayers, she said. She also didn’t like that the agreement couldn’t be altered.
Whitsett said the agreement is vulnerable to lawsuits through the Endangered Species Act.
“In my mind it does not guarantee water because the (Endangered Species Act) is the law of the land,” she said.
Whitsett said she had 14 alternatives to the KBRA, including:
• Cold water, offstream, deep storage, such as the proposed Long Lake project and others.
• Juniper tree mitigation in the Basin, projected to save thousands of acre-feet of water.
• A series of water treatment plants below Upper Klamath Lake.
• Control of cormorants and other creatures that eat juvenile salmon.
• Installation of new fish ladders.
“I feel there are alternatives out there and I’m willing to consider any of those. I would like to have some sort of agreement, but not necessarily one that involves removing the four Klamath dams.”
Liskey: Addressing the Endangered Species Act, Liskey said farmers already are dealing with those issues, and the KBRA includes agreements to address ESA standards. Those agreements — including those with environmental, fish and wildlife officials, Tribes and national marine fisheries — are what make the KBRA the better solution to water shortages in the Basin.
“A lot of people haven’t been hit by it,” Liskey said. “I have. It’s personally devastated my whole third-generation farm, by no water. These are really big issues to say they won’t make a difference.”
KBRA also gives farmers security in knowing how much water they will have each spring, Liskey added.
“The security to the farmer is the key that makes this economy stable,” he said.
He also again mentioned that decision making on the KBRA and dam removal, at this point, is beyond the level of the state Legislature.
Whitsett: Whitsett said Oregon legislators might have to make decisions related to the agreement. She referenced Oregon Senate Bill 168, from the 2011 Legislature, which asked to bond lottery funds for lost property taxes related to consequences of the KBRA.
“The Oregon Legislature is going to be expected to make decisions on issues regarding KBRA,” she said. “I don’t think the state of Oregon needs to bear the brunt of this agreement.”
Q: Farm Bureau opposed to dam breaching
Whitsett took advantage of her chance to ask Liskey a question (Liskey declined to ask a his question opponent ) by referencing the Oregon Farm Bureau’s policy against removing dams, especially if that removal affected power rates. She asked Liskey his stance on dam removal and how that stands with the Farm Bureau’s stance.
Liskey: Liskey said he helped craft the Farm Bureau’s policy, but he said that policy reflects the organization as a whole, not him as an individual. Even as vice president of the Farm Bureau, he said, that doesn’t mean his personal opinion reflects the organization’s.
“In my private life I see this compromise outweighing some of those situations. If we can supply water, we can clean up the water for the fish, we can stabilize the economy, we can help the (tribes) get their things. There are other issues that can replace that power.”
He also said, as a legislator, he would try to keep opportunities for hydropower in the area.
Q: KBRA dam removal and PUC endorsement
Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, followed up
Whitsett’s dam removal question by referencing an Oregon Public Utility Commission finding that the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement limits costs and manages risk better than relicensing the dams. “Isn’t this kind of negotiated settlement approach something we should support to keep rates down?” Addington asked.
Whitsett: Whitsett said the PUC didn’t consider that PacifiCorp has not quantified the cost of replacement power. With Oregon requiring more renewable sources to meet energy standards, Whitsett said that means even more expensive power for customers.
“We’re looking at replacing hydroelectric power, which is one of the cheapest forms of power, with different forms of alternative energy. That’s looking at two to four times the expense.”
Liskey: While PacifiCorp, as a private business, will charge its customers regardless, Liskey said dam removal was still the cheaper option. He said the cost of adding fish ladders, fish screens and relicensing the dams would be 50 to 100 percent more. “Those costs will be passed on,” he said.
Q: KBRA alternative: Project transfer
Bill Kennedy, a rancher in Poe Valley, asked about alternatives to the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, specifically the idea of transferring the federal reclamation and irrigation project from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to local irrigation control.
Whitsett: “It sounds like a very good idea,” Whitsett said. “I would like to see the federal government essentially out of our Basin. I think we could handle our own system.”
Liskey: Liskey, too, was in favor, but worried about issues that could come up.
He said water rights of individual users must be sorted out first. That likely will come from the state adjudication process.
“Just because we privatize the operation doesn’t change much,” he said.
There could be advantages to giving control to irrigators. While the federal government can shut down water to federal projects, it can’t shut off state water claims, Liskey said.
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